The Prospect of Naturalizing Phenomenology: New Essays
Deadline for Submissions: September 30th, 2022
Can phenomenology be naturalized? And what does this mean, exactly? Two decades ago, these questions were implied by “Naturalizing Phenomenology”, the collective volume edited by J. Petitot, F. Varela, B. Pachoud and J. Roy (1999). The aim of this book was to establish a dialogue between Husserlian phenomenology and the cognitive sciences, in the belief that phenomenological analyses of mental phenomena can be profitably related to scientific analyses of cognition, thus contributing to reciprocal progress in our understanding of mind, consciousness, and cognition. In the last two decades, much work has been done in this direction, showing the usefulness of bringing phenomenology and the cognitive sciences into dialogue. However, the original proposal also called into question the general and difficult issue of the relationship between consciousness and nature, with all its associated epistemological and ontological aspects. As a matter of fact, the main concepts involved in it – nature, naturalization, and phenomenology – can be understood in different ways.
By “nature”, one could refer to the object of the natural sciences, within the scientific worldview inaugurated by Galileo in the modern age, and thus to a specific conception of nature as a merely quantitative domain, devoid of qualitative properties. But one could also argue for an enlarged conception in which there is room for the qualitative properties of objects in the world (as in J. Petitot’s and B. Smith’s proposal of a phenophysics or qualitative ontology) and/or for the phenomenal properties of mental states (as in various non-reductionistic and non-physicalistic views in the philosophy of mind, such as naturalistic property dualism and emergentism).
By “naturalization”, one could refer to a metaphysical endeavour, i.e. the attempt to bring the conscious mind back to the ontology of the natural world, or, at least, to make every phenomenological property continuous with those admitted by the natural sciences. But one could also refer, in a less demanding and more vague way, to a methodological attitude that gives an epistemic privilege to the methods of the empirical sciences.
Finally, by “phenomenology” one could refer, in a broad sense, to the “what-it’s-likeness” of experiences or, in a narrower sense, to the research tradition and philosophical method that was inaugurated by Husserl. In the latter sense, phenomenology is a transcendental endeavour that is aimed at showing the connection between the “what-it’s-likeness” of experience and the sense-constitution of objects and meanings that appear through it. This means that the phenomenological investigation, understood in this narrower sense, is aimed at revealing the conditions of possibility of experience – which are also the conditions of possibility of nature, understood as the correlate of the constituting functions of transcendental consciousness.
These are some of the ways in which the attempt to unravel the concepts involved in the idea of “naturalizing phenomenology” ends up opening a whole series of difficult questions that are still central in the lively debate between phenomenologists and philosophers of mind. The aim of this monographic issue of Humana.mente is to shed light on the landscape opened by the project of naturalizing phenomenology, with the intention, on the one hand, of taking stock of what has been done so far in this direction, and, on the other, of prompting a renewal of its ambitions, by rethinking about its premises and its objectives.
We therefore aim to discuss questions such as the following:
- What does it mean to naturalize consciousness? Are there aspects of experience that most resist attempts at naturalization, such as values, norms, logical laws or the human will?
- Is it possible to pursue the naturalization of consciousness within a transcendental phenomenological framework? Does the development of such an attempt entail only a “reorientation” of phenomenology or, rather, a renunciation to some of its fundamental tenets? If consciousness has a transcendental and normative function with respect to one’s knowledge of nature, is it possible to think of it as a part of nature?
- What is the concept of nature that comes into play in the attempts to naturalize phenomenology, understood both as the what-it’s-likeness of experience and as the transcendental investigation developed by Husserl? What is the relation between natural sciences and the philosophical and transcendental investigation of consciousness that could be involved in the project of naturalizing phenomenology?
- What is the historical role and position of the naturalization project within the tradition of transcendental philosophy?
- Do recent developments in the field of 4E cognition, which conceive of the mind as embodied, enactive, embedded and extended, and the various strands of enactivism – autopoietic, sensorimotor, and radical – make us closer to the objective of a naturalized phenomenology? What about Varela’s neurophenomenology, which was proposed as a “methodological remedy” to the hard problem of consciousness?